Watching the news last night left more than a nasty taste in the mouth (well, it often does, actually). This morning I knew what it was - the closure of something 168 years old, in this case the newspaper the News of the World.
What looked like an act of sacrifice by News International is a rather cynical ploy to speed up what they were intending to do anyway, which is to shed the staff of one newspaper and run a seven day a week operation from the Sun. Achieved now at a stroke.
But what really bothered me was closing an institution of that age. If it was a building that dated back to the 1840s, there would be an outcry if it was demolished at a stroke (well, yes, that does happen). But because it is an institution, and great men are supposed to be able to shut and merge and generally gut the institutions they control, nobody complains - beyond the lost jobs. Governments do it all the time - lost hospitals, libraries, courts, all of them small tragedies and impoverishing.
But institutions are important. They are part of what makes life civilised. When the sociologist Robert Putnam hailed the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy as one that has unprecedented social capital, part of the reason - he said - was institutions that dated back to the twelfth century.
When institutions go wrong, they need to be cleansed, cleared out and reformed. They need to be cut down to size and forced to be effective - because they matter. They should not be just discarded. Yes, the News of the World has clearly become corrupted, but to destroy anything that has lasted so long is an act of vandalism. Don't obliterate, reform.
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